Revelations: Turkish coffee with a side of shamanism

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Sept. 6, 2013 at 4:06 a.m.
Updated Sept. 7, 2013 at 4:07 a.m.

I can't tell you how many times I've traveled to New York.

Ten times? Fifteen? I lost track years ago.

But each time I visit, I'm exposed to something new and exciting that resonates with me for years.

Whatever flavor you desire, you'll find it in New York.

So it's only natural, I suppose, that in a city where every flag in the world is represented, I'd eventually end up having an interesting religious experience.

After leaving an all-day journalism workshop at our hotel in Midtown, a couple of my girlfriends decided we should all go for dinner.

We wanted something uniquely ethnic; a dining experience rather than just another meal.

So I turned to the nearest pedi-cab driver. Surely, he would know the best restaurants nearby.

In his best English, the Turkish pedi-cab driver suggested a Turkish restaurant four blocks away - Istanbul Aba.

For next to nothing, he peddled us to the restaurant, a delightful 10-table place on West 57th Street.

Aba was BYOB, so my friends found a table by the window, while I walked to a nearby store to buy a few bottles of wine.

We ordered a little bit of this and that off the menu: cold plates of assorted humus and olives, falafels, adana kebabs and vegetarian casseroles.

We laughed and ate and drank (not-so-fine) wine. We sat by the window and watched New Yorkers walk their dogs late into the evening.

And at some point during our dinner, we made friends with our waiter, another Turkish immigrant aspiring to be a filmmaker in the city.

We exchanged niceties, and eventually, I asked how old he was.

I was surprised when he answered, "I don't ever say my age because I don't believe in time. In my religion, we believe you are born, you live, and you die. So, age doesn't matter."

I was intrigued.

I knew Turkey was a predominantly Muslim country, and none of my Muslim friends ever refused to tell me their age.

But when I asked if he was Muslim, he said "No. I am a Shaman."

Again, I was intrigued. A Shaman? My inner faith reporter nerd wanted him to perform some kind of spiritual ritual.

He explained that shamanism was prevalent in Turkey and proudly told me it was older than Islam.

A few years ago, I met a practicing shaman, but he was from Mexico, and he blended his practice with Catholicism.

I'd never heard of Middle Eastern people practicing divination, at least not in modern times.

So, you can imagine how fixated I was on his religious identity and story, especially when he told us he was capable of telling our fortunes from our post-entree coffee cups.

Turkish coffee is considered some of the finest in the world, and there's an old saying that drinking a single cup of Turkish coffee can create a friendship for 40 years.

But the fortune-telling part of coffee drinking is widely known, and sometimes, the saucers are even designed with zodiac symbols on the dish.

We drank the coffee (and yes, it was delicious) and when we were finished, we placed the coffee saucer on the top of the cup and flipped both dishes upside down.

As the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup cooled, the slushy dark grounds inched their way to the top.

When the grounds cooled, our shaman waiter "read" our coffee cups.

He shook the grounds out of the cup and carefully inspected the stains down the side of glass, both of which, he said, were significant to give a successful reading.

We listened to each other's readings as he went around the table, smiling and laughing as he said something true or spot-on.

My reading, too, was surprisingly accurate, and he detailed a few things about my life that he couldn't have possibly known from looking at me.

The other girls said the same thing about their coffee readings, and we chatted about it the entire walk back to the hotel.

Years from now, I probably won't remember the waiter's name or which street the restaurant was on. I won't remember what I had to eat or whether my silly coffee fortune came true. I'll remember sharing the finest food with some special girlfriends and drinking lucky Turkish coffee and a couple of bottles of not-so-fine wine.

And I'll remember meeting the Turkish shaman, a man who exposed me to a lovely tradition of friendship and good fortune disguised as a steaming cup of espresso.

It wasn't exactly on the menu. But I can say with some certainty, it was definitely my flavor.

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or or @jenniferpreyss on Twitter.



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